City Place and the R4C Zoning Classification

As was discussed here earlier, an enduring issue in the background of the debate over the City Place proposed development has been the role of the Central Area Plan in determining how the Germantown area – and all the city’s neighborhoods near the downtown core – should be developed.  Sadly, the zoning map was never revised to reflect the goals of the CAP.  Specifically, the predominant zoning, R4C, allows for much greater density than that indicated by a reading of the CAP.  Worse, in combination with a rather labored definition of a “household” in our code, R4C allows a peculiar configuration into a “housing unit” designed solely for student occupants, with individual locked bedrooms adjoining a central living area.  It is not a form of apartment design that is likely to be used by other demographics at any time in the future, and provides for a very high income from one “housing unit”.  So the R4C, when applied to a neighborhood of homeowners, will create high-density buildings that will not support long-term tenants or families.

City Council passed a resolution to form a committee to study possible changes to the zoning ordinance for R4C and R2A categories on July 6. But while these admittedly defective (for today’s purposes) zoning classifications remain on the books, developments are still being considered for sensitive areas. The Germantown Neighborhood Association has been lobbying for a moratorium on development under the old zoning definitions. Tom Whitaker, the president of the association, posted a number of discussions of this issue on their blog. You might suppose that since the R4C version of City Place has been temporarily set aside by the developer in favor of seeking approval for a new PUD proposal, the GNA’s urgency on a moratorium might be scaled back  Not so.  Here’s what Whitaker said in a recent email (quoted with permission; emphasis mine):

“Yet another twist to the on-going saga of City Place.  Yesterday, Alex de Parry’s attorney, Scott Munzel, sent a letter to the City requesting that they table the City Place vote until early November in order to allow time for Mr. de Parry to submit yet another PUD proposal…This proposal is the same one we were discussing with Mr. de Parry in February/March, but called off our talks when he submitted the “R4C” project, often called his “by right” project.  This alternative proposal, as Mr. de Parry would like to see it, would be much larger in terms of density – as much as 180+ occupants.  The design calls for complete demolition of one of the seven historic homes, with the rear portions of the other six demolished and the front portions dismantled and stored off-site.  Then, an underground parking structure would be built, almost to the lot lines, and a large, long gable-roofed structure built along the length of the combined parcels.  The pieces of the dismantled houses would then be brought back and attached to this new structure.  They would be spaced and ordered differently from their current configuration and nothing would remain of the original foundations or interiors.”

“The Germantown Neighborhood Association objected to some of the key elements of this plan including the destruction of the houses and the overall size of the project (both density and physical size).  Our preference has always been to see the houses restored and then supplemented with well-designed additions or perhaps carriage-house structures with additional units.  With State and Federal historic tax credits available for approved work on historically-designated buildings, we think a project could be created that would enhance the neighborhood rather than destroy it, and still provide for a reasonable profit for Mr. de Parry.  First, we would all need to work together to get our neighborhood established as an historic district.”

“We were not surprised by this last-minute maneuver on City Place.  Many of us have always felt that the “R4C” project was simply a threat being used to “encourage” the neighbors and the City to approve a much larger PUD.  In fact, it was first drawn up specifically to show at a planning commission meeting last year, when the “brownstone” PUD version of City Place was being considered.  Even while the R4C project was working its way through the approval process, Mr. de Parry’s team was calling, emailing and meeting with anyone who would give them the time of day to try and promote his newer “alternative PUD”.”

“Folks, we are all concerned about the historic character and integrity of Germantown, but this all boils down to zoning ordinances that are too weak and subject to broad interpretation.  Council knows this, which is why they voted to study the zoning in R4C/R2A in order to correct it and bring it into compliance with the Central Area Plan.  We need your continued support for the moratorium, regardless of what happens with City Place.  This issue is bigger than any single project.  The City and the neighborhood will not be off this merry-go-round until City Council calls a moratorium and proceeds rapidly with the study and correction of the zoning.  We can’t tell Mr. de Parry what to build, but if the City had its zoning in shape and compliant with the Central Area Plan, it would be clear to all what he could NOT build.”

On Monday, July 20, the Council will be considering a resolution calling for a moratorium on developments requiring a site plan in areas currently zoned R4C and R2A, while the city awaits the findings of the study committee. It does not prevent construction of projects not needing a site plan, is for up to 180 days, and has an appeal process.  Here’s hoping that Council will approve it without regard to political faction issues (Mike Anglin is its sponsor), because it is needed if we are to make our planning procedures rational, predictable, and in accordance with public will, as expressed in the Central Area Plan.

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